Study Finds New Healthy School Lunch Rules Are Working

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Courtesy Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Courtesy: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Five years after it was signed into law, a new study has vindicated a school lunch program designed to get kids to eat healthier in public schools.

A study recently published in the JAMA Pediatrics Journal revealed that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which requires whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to be part of school lunches, has led to the meals being healthier. The study also claimed that, despite previous reports, roughly the same number of students are still participating in school lunch programs.

The researchers behind the study looked at the nutritional value of the meals of 7,200 Washington, D.C., area students from January 2011 to January 2014 (from fifteen months before to sixteen months after the new rules took effect). By using each meal’s caloric count to calculate their energy density, and combining that with measurements of calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, fiber, and protein, the researchers were able to assess the nutritional quality of each meal.

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Courtesy WhiteHouse.Gov

Courtesy: WhiteHouse.Gov

In a JAMA published editorial about the study, Erin Hager of the University of Maryland and Lindsay Turner of Boise State say that it “adds to a growing and substantial amount of empirical evidence showing that school meal changes from the HHFKA have resulted in significant, valuable, and effective changes in not only the food environment but also in student behavior and health outcomes.”

 The new report challenges previous claims, such as those made by the School Nutritional Association in October of 2015, that the HHFKA’s strict nutritional guidelines are a financial burden and that participation in school lunch programs was going down. In response to the findings, the SNA’s president Jean Ronnei released a statement that commended the schools studied and stressed that they support many of the nutritional aspects for the HHFKA, but that “the study ignores the unintended consequences causing nationwide decreased participation in the NSLP (National School Lunch Program).”

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